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A Strong Team Helps Create a Culture of Safety

FPGB safety walk

There’s a lot to learn when you join a Safety Walkthrough at one of our schools! 

On September 21, Superintendent Dr. Nyah Hamlett met Chief of Operations Dr. Andre’ Stewart, new Emergency Management Coordinator Vencelin Harris and other Safety Team members in front of Frank Porter Graham Bilingue. They were soon met by Principal Karen Galassi-Ferrer, and with so many trained and experienced eyes on the building and grounds, Harris kept up a steady process of note taking for repairs, upgrades and inquiries.

Dr. Hamlett spoke at length with Harris, who explained how he chose to apply for the EMC position when it was posted. He retired in July after 30 years with the Chapel Hill Fire Department, having served the last three years as fire chief. But it was the work he did from 2018-2020 as the town’s emergency management coordinator that stood out as his favorite role during those years of service. He thought he might be a good fit for the new CHCCS position, and Dr. Hamlett agreed the district is lucky to have him on board!

Harris is excited about his “second career,” and he’s deeply invested in the overall mission of strengthening school safety. He said, “You want kids to come to schools that are caring and nurturing environments and not have to worry, ‘Am I safe here today?’” Dr. H and Vence Harris

Whenever the team is touring buildings, they pay particular attention to all door fixtures, checking locks and accessibility. Galassi-Ferrer said, “I tell my team, there are a lot of things that are out of our control, but keeping our doors closed and locked is one thing we CAN control."

Dr. Hamlett noted how powerful and reassuring it was to have Harris and Director of Safe Schools, Tracy Holloway, leading the “command center” on the first day of school when UNC campus went into lockdown, and CHCCS entered “secure mode” in response to the threat. Holloway is also a 30-year veteran of public safety and emergency management. “It was amazing to have Vence and Tracy leading on that first day of school, not only bringing experience but much needed calm,” Dr. Hamlett said.

When the superintendent asked Harris how he maintains such calm in the face of crisis, he replied, “We know everyone gets their cues from leadership. If we are seeming chaotic, that transfers to everyone around us.” Harris believes in the importance of safety focused professional learning for all adults across the district. “When we can practice real time scenarios in place, then we get a feel for how a crisis might really go,” he said. 

Vence and Karen GF safety

In the Strategic Plan 2027, the first of the five Key Priorities is Creating a Culture of Safety and Wellness, and two of the Core Values are Collective Efficacy and Engagement. To join a CHCCS safety walkthrough is to see those elements of the Strategic Plan operating on many levels! 

CHCCS District Headlines stories are written on a regular basis by the CHCCS Division of Communications, with assistance from a network of school-based “storytellers” who share tips and ideas throughout the school year. The goal is to share real-world examples of the CHCCS Strategic Plan in action. Know about a story worth telling from your school? Contact the CHCCS Communications team at